Diversity & Inclusion

CES 2023: Where Technology Met Social Impact

Overview This article is reprinted with permission. It first appeared January 18, 2023 on Ad Council’s website, adcouncil.org. Read on to find out what the author saw that inspired her at CES 2023. From inventions that are narrowing the virtual- and real-world divide to technology that promises to shrink the social equity gap, the world’s biggest tech conference elevated tech for good across its many stages.

With over 3,000 exhibitors and 115,000 attendees, CES is the most influential tech conference in the world, showcasing breakthrough technologies that will shape our future. I’ve spent most of my career at the Ad Council, building relationships with social media companies to develop and scale impactful and innovative partnerships. Since June, I’m leading a new center of excellence focused on emerging media and technology. Given this new focus, I was eager to learn about future technology shaping how we consume media and drive impact. Here are my top highlights from CES 2023.

The future of artificial intelligence is here

About every tech product showcased at CES was infused with AI. As a new mom, one of my favorite products was Ella, a baby stroller from GlüxKind. Ella’s smart travel system has various convenient AI-powered features that keep the baby safe. With computer vision, the stroller gives parents an “environmental danger alert” when it senses an object nearby. The smart stroller also includes a “hands free mode,” an intelligent braking system, a Rock-My-Baby feature and a built-in white noise machine.

Generative AI applications were discussed on almost every CES panel I attended. AI is now so sophisticated it can generate unique content such as text, images, artwork and poetry. This capability will undoubtedly shape the future of creative, content and advertising.
I spoke on a “Technology for Good” panel about how the Ad Council worked with Meta to create two AR filters for our mental health campaign for young adults, Seize the Awkward. AI helped us create the scenes in the filters that ultimately helped young adults begin conversations with their friends that are struggling. Using AI to tell stories is an area we’ll continue to explore—but not without humans at the center.

Accessibility and inclusivity is an inspiring area for innovation

I always appreciate innovative products that can improve the lives of people with disabilities. I shared the stage with Hilary Batsel, Senior Director of Global Media at Microsoft, who introduced a new job marketplace they helped to launch: the Neurodiversity Career Connector, which aims to decrease job barriers and improve neurodiversity in the workplace. The site features job listings by US employers seeking applicants with autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and other conditions associated with neurodivergent, or atypical, brain functioning. An estimated 15 to 20% of people worldwide have a neurodivergent condition and may struggle with traditional job interviews. This new marketplace provides a platform for these people to be recognized for job openings and encourages employers to have a neurodiversity hiring program in place.
Another product that inspired me was a voice synthesizing tool called My Own Voice, designed to address the needs of people with voice impairments or who may have conditions that can lead to the loss of their voice. The tool allows people to preserve their voices using deep neural network technology to create digital copies. Helping people preserve this essential part of their identity can only help lead us toward a more inclusive and equitable society.

The virtual and physical worlds continue to merge

Over the last six months, I’ve been exploring 3D immersive worlds, also known as the metaverse, primarily through VR with my Oculus Quest, to understand better how to use these spaces to connect people to our causes. I’ve had work meetings in Horizon Workrooms sitting next to my colleagues’ avatars. When I give my colleague a virtual high five in the metaverse, stars appear to signal contact. But what if we could actually feel it? That’s where haptic technology comes in.
I went to the bHaptics exhibit in Central Hall to try on their wireless VR haptic gloves and TactSuit. The gloves vibrate to simulate touch when you interact with something or someone in your virtual space. For example, a calming vibration simulates dripping water, but if you put your hand in a flame, it will vibrate intensely to signal to your brain that playing with fire is dangerous. The TactSuit sends the same kinds of vibrations across your chest and back.
Associating physical touch with people in the metaverse could foster more connection for those experiencing loneliness in the real world. Imagine you’re alone and missing a family member that lives on the other side of the world. What if you could experience the feeling of hugging them through virtual haptic technology?

Hologram meetings are here

I had a chance to demo the Webex hologram from Magic Leap and Cisco. This is a real-time holographic meeting solution that leverages augmented reality. While wearing the glasses, I interacted with a Cisco employee who was located in North Carolina. Instead of seeing a video image of him as if he was on a Zoom call—he appeared lifelike as a hologram and we could interact with objects in front of us. It felt like we were together in person.
As this technology evolves, it will be transformative. People across the world will be able to experience the same immersive event or work on the same project at the same time. This will take hybrid work to the next level.
One of my favorite exhibits was at HYPERVSN, where I could instantly turn myself into a hologram. Their four-ray LED-based display rotates faster than the eye can see, leaving only the 3D holographic content floating in midair. I imagine a future when all our speaking engagements will be available live and virtually—as hologram versions of ourselves. I could also see this technology being really useful in the customer service and hospitality industries. Combined with AI, hologram technology would certainly evolve the messenger chatbots we know and use today.

Elevating women and equity 

I also want to highlight The Female Quotient Equality Lounge, founded by Shelley Zalis. This was my first time visiting the Equality Lounge and it was the highlight of my entire CES experience. The Equality Lounge is where I had the honor of speaking on the “Technology for Good” panel I previously mentioned, along with Stephanie Latham, VP of Global Business at Meta, and Hilary Batsel, Senior Director of Global Media at Microsoft. I returned later that night for the SXM Media “Pass the Mic” women's leadership dinner.
The Equality Lounge was created to raise women's voices to drive change and foster equality and appears at every major conference, including CES, Davos, SXSW, and Cannes. The conversations that happen inside this lounge are authentic, genuine and honest. As a woman in business and a working mother, I felt a sense of connection and support and a sense of calm—feelings that were very welcomed after running around the CES conference. I’m very excited to see what the Female Quotient continues to build.

It's time to #TearThePaperCeiling

And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the art installation the Ad Council and Opportunity@Work featured at the C Space thanks to our partners at NBCUniversal. The masterpiece,created by the talented Samuelle Green, brought our Tear the Paper Ceiling campaign to life. As you walked through the installation, you experienced a physical manifestation of the “paper ceiling''—the invisible barrier that comes at every turn for STARs, workers Skilled Through Alternative Routes rather than a bachelor’s degree.

It was inspiring to see an installation like this at the biggest tech conference in the world, influencing hiring managers across the tech industry. When innovation meets equity in the workplace, everyone has a brighter future.
To view the original article, including more of Laurie’s photos from the show, visit Ad Council here.